Man Without Qualities

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Saint Paul and the Founders

The following is what Donald Lutz of the University of Houston writes in The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1988) about Christianity's influence during America's founding era (1760-1805):

If we ask which book was most frequently cited in that literature [of the founding era], the answer is, the Bible. ...[T]he biblical tradition accounted for roughly one-third of the citations in the sample. However, the sample includes about one-third of all significant secular publications, but only about one-tenth of the reprinted sermons. Even with this undercount, Saint Paul is cited about as frequently as Montesquieu and Blackstone, the two most-cited secular authors, and Deuteronomy is cited almost twice as often as all of Locke's writings put together. A strictly proportional sample with respect to secular and religious sources would have resulted in an abundance of religious references....

Approximately 80 percent of the political pamphlets published during the 1770s were reprinted sermons. When reading comprehensively in the political literature of the war years, one cannot but be struck by the extent to which biblical sources used by ministers and traditional Whigs undergirded the justification for the break with Britain, the rationale for continuing the war, and the basic principles of Americans' writing their own constitutions.

So Justice Scalia seems to be in tune with the Founders. And it would appear that those who wish to construe the writings of Saint Paul as perceived by the Founders as inconsistent with the principles of American democracy are likely importing more of their own opinions than historical fact into the analysis.

Thomas Jefferson was not a fan of Saint Paul, who Jefferson considered to have distorted Jesus' more sublime teachings. (Jefferson wrote: "Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.") But Thomas Jefferson was not the only founder. And Jefferson seems to have disapproved of Saint Paul as a religious and moral teacher, and not to have argued that Saint Paul's writings were inconsistent with Jefferson's own political principles, or at least the Man Without Qualities has not discovered any such Jeffersonian writings mentioning Paul in that way. Jefferson did delete Paul's writings from the Jefferson Bible.

There was certainly no universal agreement among enlightened people at the time that Saint Paul was a benefit to mankind. Lord Bolingbroke, an 18th century English philosopher who was definitely NOT a Founder (but Thomas Jefferson held him in high regard), for example, wrote:

It is time to speak of the articles of faith commonly claimed by Christianity. It is this issue that has furnished all matter of strife, contention, and uncharitableness, from the apostolic age to this very day. It is this that has added another motive, and one that is stronger than any other, to animosity and hatred, to wars and massacres, and to that cruel principle which was never known until Christians introduced it into the world. That being the persecution for opinions, for opinions often of the most abstract speculation, and of the least importance to civil or religious interests. It is this, in short, whose effects have been so fatal to the peace and happiness of mankind, that nothing which the enemies of religion can say on the subject will be exaggerated beyond the truth. But still the charge they bring will be unjustly brought. These effects have not been caused by the gospel, but by the system raised upon it. Not by the revelations of God, but by the inventions of men. The gospel of Christ is one thing, the gospel of St. Paul, and of all those who have grafted after him on the same stock, is another.

The Works of Lord Bolingbroke, Vol. III, pp. 417-418, Frank Cass & co., London, 1967

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